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New trades school seeks to combine skills and sanctity


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John Burger - published on 01/03/20

Harmel Academy of the Trades in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a Catholic post-secondary school that provides technical training and spiritual formation.

During his travels around the diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bishop David J. Walkowiak sometimes hears from businessmen who have trouble finding employees who are both competent and of good moral character. Bishop Walkowiak said he was happy to hear that a new educational institution has opened that will train young men to become technical experts in a skilled trade, while also being personally developed in their Catholic faith.

Harmel Academy of the Trades is a post-secondary institution in Grand Rapids founded by Brian Black, head of Grand Rapids Builders, and Ryan Pohl, a journeyman CNC machinist. Harmel wants to offer students an authentically Catholic experience, like one they might find at Thomas Aquinas College or Ave Maria University, but with trades instead of a bachelor’s degree, according to Catholic News Agency.

Black told the wire service that students will have the opportunity to gain hands-on-experience in actual trades and grow in an understanding of “Christ in their lives as it relates specifically to work, their family life, and their own mission in the Church.”

We are going to tell you about the integrity of your life. We are going to inform you about Christ who chose to become man as a carpenter, as a tradesman,” he said.

According to CNA:

The two-year program’s initial education will be centered on Machine and System Technology, which includes experience in electrical, machine operation, and 3D printing. The school will eventually add other skilled trades, including HVAC and plumbing. The curriculum is split into three parts: lessons, apprenticeship, and humanities. Classes will take place both online and on the Kuyper [College] campus, which can house 300 people. Students will work part-time in a particular trade as part of a paid apprenticeship. After two years, graduates will receive a certificate in their trade and be halfway through the completion of their journeymen card. In addition to their education in a trade, students at Harmel Academy will receive spiritual formation through a two-year-long humanities course. They will study history, philosophy, theology, and politics, with texts including papal documents and the works of Aristotle.

In a letter to the school, Bishop Walkowiak reflected on the Church’s “long history of social teachings on the dignity of human work.”

“Pope St. John Paul II in his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens affirms that ‘Work is a good thing for a man—a good thing for his humanity’ and that ‘The Church finds in the very first pages of the Book of Genesis the source of her conviction that work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth.’ Through my life as a pastor and bishop, I have been privileged to see men and women who strive to connect their daily work to their life of faith.”

Black told CNA that while many young adults are a good fit for college, others are more naturally suited for skilled trades.

“I think the trades give young men a unique ability to truly imitate Christ,” he said, “and that’s pretty powerful stuff.”

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